Do you think making pasta is just about boiling noodles and tossing them in some sauce? If that’s your attitude, you may be missing out on enjoying the most delicious pasta you have ever tasted. With just a few simple tweaks, you can bring your pasta making skills to gourmet level. Impress your taste buds and your dinner guests with these tips for making your best pasta ever!
Make Your Own Fresh Pasta
Packaged, dry pasta and fresh, homemade pasta can both produce delicious results, but if you really want to impress someone and try something new, making your own pasta at home really isn’t all that difficult. Plus, it can be a fun weekend activity for your family or a group of friends. All you need is a pasta maker and some flour, salt and eggs. Head over to The Kitchn for an excellent step-by-step pasta-making tutorial (if you don’t have a pasta maker, hand-rolling techniques are also included).
And just like any recipe you make, the quality of your ingredients plays a big part in the flavors you produce. Lauren Mote, longtime restaurant industry gal and co-proprietor of Bittered Sling Bitters, says the flavor of your flour is especially important:
“The best texture comes from the combination of the best flour, water and eggs. Rest and cooking time too, but the flavor in the flour is important. For the greatest oil and garlic pasta with Parmigiano, you want the best tasting dough. Most people love the Tipo “00” flour for making pasta.”
Boil The Pasta Just Right
Boiling a perfect batch of pasta is about much more than dumping your noodles in a pot of boiling water. You need to pay attention to several important details to produce the absolute best results. The amount of water and salt you use and the boiling time are all crucial.
I was guilty of never adding salt to the water when I boiled my pasta, and boy was that a mistake. Once I started doing it, my pasta took on a new dimension of flavor entirely, and now I add salt to the water religiously. It’s also very important to use the right amount of water, so your pasta has plenty of room to cook. Many pasta pros assert that the perfect pasta is cooked “al dente”, which basically means cooked through, but with a subtle firmness.
How to boil your pasta perfectly:
- Boil 5 quarts of water for every pound of pasta.
- Once it comes to a rolling boil, add 2 tbsp sea salt.
- Add the noodles and taste-test them as they get close to the end of their cooking time, looking for that al dente texture. Fresh pasta needs only 1-3 minutes, while dry pasta needs about 9 or 10 depending on its shape and thickness.
- If you’re using packaged pasta, my culinarily-inclined friends Damon and Sasha both agree on another secret: remove the noodles one minute before the al dente package directions recommend. When you mix it with your simmering sauce, the pasta will finish cooking to the perfect doneness.
- When draining your pasta, don’t rinse it, as this will remove the starch that helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
- Be sure to reserve about a cup of the pasta cooking water for our next pro tip…
Some of my most beloved pasta recipes are the simplest, which can be said for a lot of classic Italian dishes. Nigella Lawson’s absolutely divine and incredibly easy Lemon Thyme Mushroom Linguine, for example, uses only olive oil, garlic, lemon, thyme and sea salt in its sauce. This recipe also uses our next secret for perfect pasta: Reserve a small amount of the pasta cooking water to add to the sauce. This helps thicken it thanks to the starch remaining in the water and also helps the sauce cling to the noodles.
For tomato-based sauces, many people swear by a very specific type of canned tomatoes said to produce the most delicious homemade tomato sauce. Some even say it’s better than using fresh tomatoes! San Marzano tomatoes come from the hills between Naples and Salerno, also known as the tomato paradise of Italy, where conditions are perfect for growing the world’s most flavorful tomatoes. When buying them, look for the official marking that says “D.O.P. San Marzano”, which identifies Italian food products protected by law. Another fun fact: restaurants can only get official stamp of approval for serving authentic Neapolitan pizza if they use San Marzano tomato sauce.
If you’re cooking pasta and homemade sauce (as opposed to stuffing pasta shells or baking lasagna it in the oven), add the cooked and drained al dente noodles to your simmering sauce, stir and cook for about 2 minutes and you’re done! I like to finish my pasta by adding chopped fresh herbs, such as Italian parsley, plus freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and a few grinds of black pepper.
While doing research for this article, I surveyed my social media channels for some more tips for making the perfect pasta. Here are some good ones:
- Nathan points out that it is absolutely imperative to use plenty of water to boil your pasta. Too little water will cause the crowded noodles to stick together.
- Andrew suggests adding Italian breadcrumbs to your tomato sauce for added flavor and texture.
- Blake suggests adding a healthy amount of goat cheese to amp up any tomato sauce, and that if you want to add things like shrimp, broccoli or peppers to your sauce without them going mushy, add them to your simmering sauce when you’re about 10 minutes away from serving.
- Rebecca says you should only rinse your cooked pasta if you’re going to make cold pasta salad.
- Deen says the right cooking music is imperative.
- Meg suggests drizzling flax oil on your finished pasta dish for an added boost of nutrition.
- Charlotte says that letting your pasta dough rest longer will make it easier to roll out and cut.
- Oli says slave away on the garlic bread and salad and toss a Luvo pasta dish in the oven or microwave.
- And Ciele comes in with the piece de resistance: “throw your spaghetti at the fridge.”
Thanks for your input, friends! What are your tips for making the perfect pasta? Share them in the comments and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, for all things nutritious and delicious!